EARTH DAY: Raleigh Climate Change Hero educates community on dangers of environmental harm

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- On any given day on Raleigh's Southwest side in the historic Method community, you'll find a busy corridor. Traffic along Method Road is known to be busy. Cars and buses whiz up and down the road just steps from a warehouse that stores city shuttles overnight.

"Why do they store it here? You have to ask yourself those questions. Why isn't there separate storage instead of beside an apartment complex," environmental justice activist La'Meshia Whittington questioned. "Think about this, when you see a bus, you see transportation and we need that transportation, but what we don't need is the emission coming from the pipes."

It's work that keeps Whittington up at night. Through her research, she's identified this historically Black community as an urban heat island.

" It just has a lot of traffic. That traffic creates a lot of pollution. That pollution heats up the neighborhood. There's no land for the sun or heat to soak into. Instead, if bounces off shingles, roofs, pavement and creates a stove," Whittington said.

Those living in urban heat islands are paying for it with higher energy bills and their health.

"She had been diagnosed with asthma even more. It just triggered it to a totally different level," said Wanda Gilbert Coker who used to live there with her daughter.

Outdoor and indoor air pollutants have caused health problems for both of them.

"I had started having major headaches and severe migraines where I couldn't even drive," Coker said.

Coker met Whittington who she says helped educate her and others on how environmental pollutants contaminate the air we breathe.

"She could be working for a major corporation, but she chooses to stay here and inform the community," said Coker.

The work for Whittington continues. She's holding free community learning sessions at the center across the street.

"It hits close to home for me. Not only am I from North Carolina, but I'm an Afro-Indigenous woman. I come from the mountains. We grew up in really fresh air and sustainable agriculture. Literally grew our own crops," said Whittington.

Whittington has dedicated herself to advocating for safe environments in marginalized communities. She works as an adjunct professor of environmental justice at both North Carolina State University and Meredith College. She is a native of Morganton, North Carolina and descendant of settlers who valued protecting the land they lived on. Those are values she's teaching those living here.

"As you do the work, we all at some point have to stand up and say I'm here. The work I do has been for years and I haven't done it alone. And so, what makes me a climate change hero is I'm surrounded by heroes and heroines," said Whittington.
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